United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommends a force of 11,200 peacekeepers and 1,440 police to stabilize the West African country of Mali once current combat operations are completed.
The recommendation, which came as part of a report from Ban to the Security Council on Tuesday, acknowledges that Mali will still face an insurgency threat even after the combat mission there has officially ended.
“Given the anticipated level and nature of the residual threat, there would be a fundamental requirement for a parallel force to operate in Mali alongside the U.N. mission in order to conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations,” said Ban’s report.
A French-led intervention in Mali began on Jan. 11, after insurgents -- who had been in control of Mali’s vast northern region for months -- began advancing into central areas of the country. The central government in the southern capital city of Bamako appealed for the intervention after its troops alone proved helpless.
The French have made significant gains over the past several weeks, returning major northern cities including Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal to Malian control. But insurgents still pose a threat to communities in the vast, semi-arid lands of northern Mali and the surrounding region.
Gao was attacked by Islamist militants as recently as Saturday, according to officials there. It was the third major attack on the town since French troops drove the insurgents out.
“Terrorist groups and tactics, the proliferation of weapons, improvised explosive devices, unexploded ordnance and landmines are expected to pose significant threats,” noted Ban.
The Malian forces, which number around 7,000, are bolstered by about 6,300 troops from other African countries and 4,000 French. In addition, 21 soldiers from the Royal Irish Battalion arrived in Mali on Tuesday and will be supplemented by another 19 soldiers from the UK in coming weeks. These 40 British troops will be part of an EU training mission, and will not fill combat roles.
If a peacekeeping force is established in Mali, it would consist mostly of troops from the African countries already involved in the counterinsurgency.
Ban also recommended a parallel force that would “conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations and provide specialist support beyond the scope of the United Nations mandate and capability,” possibly from France.
French forces in Mali may begin drawing down in July, Senate President Jean-Pierre Bel told the French publication Les Echos, and a full transfer of authority to the UN could occur as early as September.